Organ Donation Week: Clinicians supporting people to donate at North Bristol NHS Trust

Monday, 5 September 2016

For most of us death seems final. Yet when it comes to the point where one life ends,  organ donation opens up the possibility of a new beginning for the recipient.

Around 7,000 people in the UK need a transplant and are depending on people being willing to donate their organs. But sadly, on average, three people die every day across the UK due to a shortage of donated organs.

NHS Blood & Transplant has a national strategy to increase the number of people from all parts of society who consent to organ donation, either for themselves or on behalf of a loved one, to enable the UK to match world-class performance in organ donation and transplantation.

2015-16 was the UK’s most successful year ever for deceased donors and deceased donor transplants. But although donor and transplant numbers continue to rise,  fewer people with the potential to donate are dying in ICUs and emergency departments.

NBT Clinical Lead for Organ Donation, Ian Thomas and Specialist Nurse in Organ Donation Sylvia Crump at Southmead Hospital

Dr Ian Thomas, Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine and our Clinical Lead for Organ Donation at North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT), said: “Our vision is to ensure that organ donation is a routine part of end of life care, where every eligible patient has the possibility explored and, where appropriate, the opportunity to become an organ donor.”

The Trust’s approach to organ donation is certainly paying off.  In the twelve months from 1 April 2015 - 31 March 2016, NBT exceeded all targets set by NHS Blood and Transplant and performed above the national average for hospitals with comparable organ donation potential. 27 patients who died at NBT became organ donors, resulting in 64 patients receiving a transplant. This is a significant increase on the previous year, when the figures were 18 donors, resulting in 48 recipients.

But the final numbers don’t always tell the whole story – sometimes even when consent has been given, donation does not occur due to factors outside of our control, such as the outcome of further medical screening or coroner refusal. So the main focus is on maximising the potential by ensuring  best practice in all elements of the process that are within the control of health professionals.

This includes the referral of all eligible patients to the specialist nurses in organ donation (SNODs).

Elaine Clarke, SNOD, said: “Staff across the Trust have embraced organ donation and shown a big commitment to increasing referral, consent and retrieval rates. They are starting to realise that not only can organ donation transform the lives of those who receive the organ, it can offer great comfort to the families of those who pass away. When talking to patients’ families about organ donation, it’s important to remember that you’re not asking for something, but simply what their relatives' wishes are – this should be a normal part of end of life care.”

This is not just a conversation that should be reserved for the end of life, as Ian points out: “For Organ Donation Week, we’re encouraging everyone, including staff, to make their wishes known.

"Even if you join the Organ Donation Register, if you don’t tell the people closest to you, your choice could come as a surprise later on when they’re trying to deal with their loss."

The importance of this conversation should not be underestimated, says Ian: “Please discuss your decision with family and friends so that when the time comes, they understand your choice. It's time to talk about organ donation – and it’s a conversation that really could save lives.”

Myth Busting

Many people choose not to donate their organs or those of their loved ones because of something bad or misleading that they’ve heard. Here’s the truth about some common organ donation myths and concerns.

MYTH: “I’m too old or unwell, no one would want my organs”

The upper age limit for donating is continually being re-assessed; currently you can donate up the age of 85. Very few medical conditions automatically disqualify you from donating. Healthcare professionals will decide whether to use your organs and/or tissue based on strict medical criteria. Certain organs and/or tissue may not be suitable for transplantation, but others may be fine.

MYTH: “Organ donation leaves the body disfigured”

All organs and/or tissue are removed with great care and respect in an operating theatre. Surgical incisions are carefully closed and covered after donation. The arrangements for viewing the body after donation are the same as usual.

MYTH: “The doctors won’t work as hard to save my life if I’ve agreed to donate my organs”

Doctors will always focus first on saving your life — not somebody else's.

MYTH: “Organ donation is against my religion”

All major religions in the UK support deceased organ donation and subsequent transplantation. This includes: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism.

If you're unsure of or uncomfortable with your faith's position on donation, ask your religious leader or teacher for guidance.